Just as it's futile to compare the latest Vin Diesel flick to Citizen Kane, sometimes electronic gadgets have to be judged within the context of their intended audience. Such is the case with the Motorola v171, which, with its basic features, no-fuss design and bargain basement price, is made for the budget-abiding prepaid mobile user.
It's pretty clear that the designers at Motorola are keen to zero in on the school-age demographic. From the opening animation of an anime-esque character spraying graffiti across the screen to the three arcade-style games, the v171 is all about adolescence. For those who are old enough to remember a world before The Simpsons, the youthful vibe may feel a tad forced - sort of like Austin Powers' Dr. Evil trying to prove his knowledge of pop culture by dancing the Macarena.
The clamshell design of the v171 gives the phone a sleek look when closed, although the antenna harks back to the dark ages of monochrome screens and multitap-only SMS. Friends whose names feature at the top of the alphabet will appreciate this phone - the form factor is handy for preventing accidental calls, since the keys can't be pressed when it is folded.
Unfolding the phone reveals just how itty bitty the 96x65 pixel screen is. At about a third of the size of the flip-out panel, the LCD just looks odd, and sneaky attempts to make it appear bigger by surrounding the screen with a contoured black border aren't fooling anyone. Compounding the problem is the large, non-adjustable font size, which means you'll be spending a lot of time scrolling through menus.
In this Blackberry-populated era of mobile connectivity, video recording and email, the v171 is notable for its simplicity. The inclusion of WAP is a tad baffling -- prepaid users are unlikely to shell out for the slow downloads, and the screen size makes viewing web content a frustrating ordeal.
One area of performance in which low-end phones tend to dominate over their more expensive companions is battery life. With medium usage, the v171 will soldier on for the best part of a week without needing a charge. This is great for tourists on the road and those in need of a phone for emergencies.
Text input in iTap (predictive) mode is initially a lengthy affair - each word must be scrolled to and confirmed before moving on to the next - but the software becomes more accurate over time, learning to suggest words common to the user's vocabulary first. These words need not be confined to conventional dictionaries; our stringent, scientific attempts at emulating teen speak revealed that words like bling, jiggy and dawg all eventually achieved legitimacy.
Menu navigation can also be irritating, with many essential options hidden under layers of sub menus. There is the ability to rearrange the main menu options and create a personalised 'MyMenu', but even this option does not rectify the need to keep scrolling and selecting ad nauseum.
For those born on this side of the 90s and travellers in need of a low-cost, basic phone, the v171 is fine for keeping in touch with friends and family. For anyone wanting to do more than just talk and text, the limited features, teeny screen and maddening menu will almost certainly prove to be an annoyance.